By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 29, 2010 - It took a few trips to the grocery store before Army Capt. Matthew Staton realized he needed help. "I'd go to the store and forget a five-item list my wife had given me," he said. "I'd just wander up and down the aisles."
Staton eventually sought help for what turned out to be mild traumatic brain injury, a result of exposure to multiple improvised explosive devices in Iraq and head trauma from a stateside car accident.
Staton, now medically retired, received not only medical care, but also technology-based care that has enabled him to embark on a successful post-military life. He described the help he received through the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program at the 2010 Military Health System Conference at the National Harbor here.
The program, known as CAP, falls under the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. It provides free assistive technology and services to people with disabilities throughout the Defense Department and other federal agencies.
"I'd heard of the program and reached out, asking for the services," he said during a Jan. 26 interview at the conference. "The memory was the biggest thing for me. I was the Post-it king -- write everything down. The problem was I couldn't keep it organized."
The program provided Staton with two personal digital assistants, a digital voice recorder, literacy software and scanner, and even a chair – all free of charge. "The PDA allowed me to pull everything together," he said.
Since its inception in 1990, the program has filled more than 81,000 customer accommodations, said Dinah Cohen, program director, who described the program's benefits at the conference Jan. 26.
"Our mission is to provide the assistive technology and accommodations to ensure our employees with disabilities and my newest customers, my wounded warriors, have equal access to the information environment and opportunities at Department of Defense and throughout the federal government," said Cohen, who has been with the program since it started.
These disabilities can range from carpal-tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow to vision impairment and hearing loss.
Through the program, employees receive assistive technology and training, needs assessments and technology demonstrations, installation and integration of technology, and training on disability management and on creating an accessible environment, Cohen said.
In 2004, the program expanded to target the unique needs of wounded warriors, Cohen said.
"When CAP was established, the military audience was always a part of it, but requirements were low; the number of people with devastating injuries was relatively low," Cohen said in an interview today.
"Post-9/11, I saw more and more servicemembers coming home with devastating injuries," she continued. "They were coming back with injuries similar to disabling conditions I've been accommodating for many years," such as cognitive issues and hearing and vision impairments.
A new population was developing that wasn't as aware of the laws dealing with disability issues, she said, due to the youth and health of the force.
A CAP program called "Support, Equip and Empower" now provides wounded warriors with information about the available technology and then provides the right equipment for their needs. Since its inception in 2004, the program has filled more than 14,000 requests directly for servicemembers, Cohen said.
As an added benefit, once assistive technology is delivered to servicemembers through CAP, they can keep that equipment, whether they continue with federal employment or not. That equipment has become part of a wounded warrior's daily life, Cohen said, so it's only fitting it should remain so.
Staton, for instance, kept his CAP-provided assistance items from active-duty service through separation and into his current job as a staff assistant for the Office of the Secretary of the Army.
The goal for wounded warriors, Cohen said, is re-employment.
"Many of our men and women who have been injured are young; they have a whole life ahead of them," she said. "We don't want to say to them at the age of 21, 'You can't work any more.'"
To spread awareness and facilitate requests, CAP has local representatives at more than 56 activities throughout the country, Cohen said.
"If you are in charge of a [military treatment facility], a clinic, a program, that has servicemen and women who are wounded warriors, who are coming back and they need CAP, you need to let us know," Cohen told the conference attendees. "That is the liaison we need.
"Bottom line is that we do right by that man and that female who have worn the uniform to keep us safe," she continued. "That we get them the right technology, that we don't make mistakes, that we're helping them through their recovery and rehabilitation."